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How to hold a guitar properly

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Are you just starting to play the guitar ? Then we'll show you how to hold it properly. Whether you want to play electric guitar or acoustic guitar, you need a good starting position to avoid issues in the long run.

Basics required for this lesson : None
Practice this lesson : None

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Holding a guitar might seem an easy thing to do. Take it, put it on your lap and play away. And that's mostly true, except that there's a couple of points that are important to check if you want to be able to play properly. You might not realize it at first, but a bad position will only lead you to issues later on. So it's best to start with a proper position, and that's what we're gonna talk about in this lesson.

This guitar lesson is for every beginner that is just starting, or that has trouble to feel comfortable with their guitar in their hands. It applies to both folk and electric guitar, with just minor adjustment. It might apply to classical guitar if you are playing modern music with it. If you are playing classical music with your guitar, it's probably best to stick with the classical position, which is not the subject of this lesson. We're not gonna talk about a standing up position either, because I don't recommend you to try it until you have some experience playing in a seated position.

Keep in mind that every one is a bit different. We have different body sizes and shapes, guitars also have different body sizes and shapes, so everything that is being shown in this lesson is more of a guide rather than a position you need to replicate perfectly. So don't take out your ruler, and don't hesitate to make minor adjustements to feel comfortable with your guitar. One last point before we start : it will take some time to really feel natural with a guitar on your lap. So don't worry too much about it, try to do your best and everything else will come with experience.

Seat properly

Now onto the main subject, and the first thing you need to do is put your guitar down if you have it on your lap. Because the first thing you want to do is being seated properly. Nothing too difficult, but there's a couple points to watch out for : 

  • Don't use a chair with armrests.
  • Find a chair with the proper height. That means that your thighs should be parallel(ish) to the ground. You do not want to have a slope down, and you certainly don't want to have your knees sticking up.
  • Keep your back straight at all times. Many beginners tend to slouch over their guitar, which will only lead to pain and trouble playing.

Place the guitar

The next thing you want to do is to take your guitar and place it on your lap flat. If you look at the underside of your guitar, you'll see that it's flat, and you want to put that part on your thigh. You don't want to angle your guitar on an edge, it needs to be in a stable position. 

If you do simply that you'll notice one thing right away : your guitar head will fall down. This is because of the weight of the tuning machines. Your first instinct might be to hold the guitar neck in your left hand (if you are right-handed) to hold it up, but that's not a good idea. Your left-hand's job is not to support the neck, but to play on the neck. It can't do both properly.

So we're gonna find the solution in our right arm (again, if you are right-handed). First you need to reach over the guitar and place your hand on your strings. Don't worry about where exactly, we're not gonna play right now. But if you do that, you'll realize that the area around your right elbow will touch your guitar's body. And this is where we're gonna stabilize the guitar : your right elbow will hold back the guitar, counteracting the weight of the tuning machines. You don't need your left hand at all to prevent your guitar's neck from falling.

If you place your right arm that way, you'll realize that you can adjust it a bit to actually change the position of the neck. The goal is to keep it parallel(ish again) to the ground. You can angle it upwards a bit, but not too much. And you don't ever want to have your neck going down. 

This should be your starting position. Seating with your back straight, your thighs parallel to the ground, your guitar place on them flat, with the right arm preventing the head from falling down. Now feel free to nudge things about a bit to adjust the position to you, your body and your guitar.

I can't see the neck anymore !

There's one last thing we need to talk about : if you apply the position described above properly, you might realize you don't see the neck anymore (unless you have X-ray vision). That is a problem when your a beginner, because you want to see where you place your left-hand's fingers. You might be tempted to angle the whole guitar and slouch over it to see what you're doing. This isn't the right way to circumvent that problem, so let's see a couple of tips to help you.

First, use a mirror. If you have one, put it in front of you and use that to see where you place your fingers properly. You won't ever have to look at the neck directly if you get used to it.

Second, feel your away around your strings and frets. Instead of looking at it, "count" the strings and frets with your fingertips. You might make some mistakes, and it will take a bit longer at first, but it's better in the long run.

Third, if all else fails and you really really have to look at it, here's how to do it : angle the guitar slightly (the least possible), angle your head (with your neck, not your back!), take a sneak peek, adjust your fingers position, and before doing anything else, put your guitar back how it was. You can temporarly put your guitar in a "bad" position to help you, as long as you put it back in the "good" position as soon as possible.

With all of that being said, this is the end of this lesson. We didn't talk about the left hand position at all because it's an entirely other subject that we'll cover in another lesson.


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Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.
(Ludwig van Beethoven)